With nine games to go in this ever-interesting Championship season, it feels like City are truly in must-win territory now if they are to give themselves even the slightest chance of finishing in the playoffs.
David Wagner will take his men to the Bet365 Stadium to face Alex Neil’s Stoke City off the back of a really disappointing week of results and performances against Sunderland and bottom-of-the-league Huddersfield Town. It was made to feel even more damning following that triumphant away win at in-form Millwall.
Stoke head into this fixture having picked up seven points from their last nine available, boasting impressive wins against Sunderland and Blackburn, as well as picking up a valuable point at home against Michael Carrick’s high-flying Middlesbrough.
During this recent upturn in form, the Potters have become somewhat free scoring across the pitch, with the likes of Tyrese Campbell, Dwight Gayle and, more interestingly, Wolves loanee Ki-Jana Hoever chipping in with three goals from right-back, in particular a well-taken brace in the 3-2 win against play-off hopefuls Blackburn Rovers.
Despite this upturn in form, as we saw in the 3-2 win over Blackburn, there are still defensive fragilities to this Stoke side, conceding two quickfire goals in four minutes to set up a tense finale which they managed to navigate.
While the playoffs may seem slightly out of reach at this stage, sat in 14th and are currently 13 points off Millwall in 6th. Neil’s men will be wanting to continue this newfound form to end the season positively.
It provides a real opportunity for Wagner and his City side to try and once again reignite their hopes of a possible promotion after losing out on a massive five points this past week.
We have reached the point of no return now when it comes to results and there needs to be some consistency from now to the end of the season if they are to give themselves a shot at the playoffs.
If one man is to inspire a sudden upturn, it could be new Brazilian fan favourite Gabriel Sara, with three goals in his last four outings, a run that continued with that lovely well-cushioned volley in the 1-1 draw with Neil Warnock’s Huddersfield.
Since Wagner’s arrival, the 23-year-old, while still having raw elements, has most definitely improved his overall game, most notably his output at the top end of the pitch. He currently sits on 10 goals and assists in 31 league appearances so far this campaign.
Barring the odd performance during Wagner’s tenure, the former São Paulo academy graduate has adapted really to his midfield role alongside Kenny McLean.
After the ankle injury to Adam Idah, we need to see some common sense prevail from the management at the top end of the pitch. We have an elite goal scorer in Teemu Pukki, who, provided with the right service, will absolutely guarantee goals at this level.
We also have creative wingers in Christos Tzolis and Marquinhos (who has had his late red card against Huddersfield rescinded, meaning he’s now available for the trip to the Bet365 Stadium). These now both need to be consistently used in the absence of Kieran Dowell, Onel Hernandez and now Idah.
Based on the performances against both Sunderland and Huddersfield, Josh Sargent is seemingly still a little way off being match sharp. I’m personally getting frustrated at this constant forced use of mobile strikers (Sargent and Idah) in wide positions when we have £11million worth of talent in Christos Tzolis making only short cameos.
All this does is just stifle the already lacking service to Pukki because they aren’t suited to the position and requirements of the role like Tzolis, Marquinhos, and Hernandez.
Due to a lack of a press conference ahead of the fixture, the length and severity of both Ben Gibson and Idah’s injuries are yet to be known.
It feels vital that Norwich head into the final international break with three points and a positive collective performance under their belts. If they fail to acquire that, it could be a very long and negative couple of weeks in Norfolk for those who aren’t heading away for international duty.
In a season of inconsistency, a call for some belated consistency is absolutely necessary if City are to even have the slightest chance of playing their football amongst England’s elite next season.
These next nine games are going to provide the biggest of opportunities for individuals to stake their claim and make themselves heroes amongst the City faithful.
We’ve already begun seeing it with Sara and Hernandez, and we’re going to need even more across the team if there is any remote chance of us walking down Wembley Way.